Mother of two, Hertfordshire, UK

From years of working in the corporate world, I have been taught to leave my personal self at home, but now work and home are one and the same, as we face isolation and lockdown. This means you can hear my kids on a call, or see them from time to time on a video call, and you know what, ‘That’s OK’. For others like me, who prefer to keep work and home separate, this is a massive challenge.

I am a business owner and working mum of two children aged five and three. The challenge of trying to continue to work and look after my children with my husband also working from home is a real struggle. Managing multiple agendas, be they education, free-time, meals, mental, emotional or physical support, not to mention the concern I have for our extended families, i.e. parents that also need our support and whom we will not physically see anytime soon.

I’m thankful for the technology that is enabling us to remain connected, and for the effort from the school’s teachers who are doing their best to support us with learning activities to complete at home. However, even more important for me is the human perspective, supporting my children’s mental wellbeing during this uncertain time.

It’s all too easy to take for granted how they are feeling. I started our first day of ‘isolation’ with the usual routine of getting ready and having breakfast, followed by an early morning family workout (to use up some of their endless explosive energy), followed by a yoga session run by my five-year-old and meditation by me. I needed to calm them down to get on with some work (myself and them!).

When we finally sat down to work at 9.30am, I started day one by asking my children how they feel about all this information they are hearing about coronavirus, to which my three-year-old responded, ‘I’m sad; people are dying.’ I talked to them both about this to understand their sadness, worries and frustrations, and tried to help them see the silver lining (we can spend more time together as a family, not worry so much about our busy schedules) so, I related this to a ‘pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow and asked, ‘What would make you feel happy?’, i.e. what’s at the other side of the rainbow? to which my three-year-old continued ‘When people stop dying’. I was stunned; these little sponges absorb so much, from the media and what others around them are saying.

Physical and mental strength and toughness are being tested, for adults and children. In the early stages of ‘isolation’ and ‘lockdown’, anxiety levels increase for children who understand the implications, but my challenge is different with such young children who currently feel excited about a ‘long school break’, until they realise they cannot play in the park or meet friends. I know this current excitement will be short-lived, so how we manage this is so important.

Check in with your children regularly to find out how they’re feeling and encourage various forms of communication (not just verbal) i.e. younger children may prefer to draw or role play. Don’t dismiss what they say, acknowledge their response; if something is worrying them, use open questions, ‘what, why and how’, and let them know you’re there to support them.

The NSPCC suggests you can support children by:

  1. Be patient, stay calm and approachable, even if their behaviour upsets you
  2. Recognise that their feelings are valid and let them know it’s OK for them to be honest about what it’s like for them (manage your reaction and response)
  3. Encourage them to talk to their GP, someone at their school or Childline, especially if they’re finding it hard to talk

Before ‘cabin-fever’ sets in, create a space for the various needs within your family. If your space is limited, it’s an opportunity to become creative with what you have. Where possible, separate rooms for different uses and minimise distractions in each room. For example, if you have school-aged children who need space to study, create the right environment for them: conducive to focusing on their work, to minimise frustration and maximise productivity. Create a work-space for yourself which is away from the household chores, so that you can remain focussed. Declutter your ‘virtual environment’ by pausing your on-screen notifications and silencing your mobile phone. Send a message to your colleagues letting them know you’ll be focussed on something for the next hour to minimise distractions. By focussing on each task at hand you’ll be far more productive; this is true for everyone in your household. It’s advisable to think through and agree on a fun and flexible routine that suits your family – this way, everyone knows where they stand.

Focus on wellbeing: check in with yourself first, and then your family members.

There is a good reason why the safety advice on aeroplanes tells us to fit our own air supply first. If we as parents and carers aren’t OK, we cannot support those we are caring for. Do what you can for your mental health and wellbeing so that you are in a better position to help others. Try something new: meditation, yoga, run around your garden, stay connected with others (remotely).

For further information

Surviving the Coronavirus Lockdown and Social Isolation is a guide to creating a new normal in a changing world. Download a copy of the ebook for free now.

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